Titus Andronicus was the first tragedy written by Shakespeare in 1590. It is on of his most gruesome and ambitious plays. It has many recognizable motifs and themes which one will continue to see develop is his later works, but Titus Andronicus is very different from the later plays by Shakespeare partly due to the strong female presence throughout the play. Tamora, the queen of the goths, is representation of evil and cruelty, while Lavinia is a representation of innocent and goodness. Shakespeare uses extreme characterization and personifications of innocent and evil to show his opinion what goodness and innocence has become in society.
There are very little women in Titus Andronicus. The two women we do follow throughout the play, Tamora and Lavinia could not be more different. With their major contribution to the play, they are. Tamora refuses to listen to Lavinia’s feminine pleas for sympathy while, her sons, Chiron and Demetrius, prepare to rape and mane Lavinia. Lavinia curses Tamora, saying, “No grace? no womanhood? Ah, beastly creature, the blot and enemy of our general name.” This is ironic, in part, because at the beginning of the play Tamora is begging for mercy, as a prisoner, to Titus to spare her son; now Titus daughter is begging for mercy here. This is not the only way she seeks revenge though. Tamora seems to be an early version of what Lady Macbeth becomes. Tamora takes out that feminine side of her so that she might be able to fit in the games of being the ruler of Rome. “Be ruled by me,” she tells Saturninus, her new husband and Emperor of Rome, however she is definitely the one who wears the pants in the relationship. while also she is cheating on him with Aaron. For most of the play, Tamora is the most powerful person in Rome.
However Tamora’s is not completely separate from her femininity. The reader should rememver that this is also a story about Tamora’s revenge along with Titus’s, for it was Titus act of killing Tamora’s son that started this cycle of death. One sees her in this starting scene and might think that she is a good mother and nurturer. However she is changed to fit the circumstances and so that she might get revenge. Shakespeare is showing that nothing good will stay good; sometimes in the case of Tamora one chooses to be evil in order to accomplish a desire, in this case, revenge. Because of this, one can imply that Tamora will not listend to Lavinia because Titus did not listen to her, as discussed before. One can see times where Tamora is more feminine like when she meets Aaron in the woods for the first time and she recites maternal poetry to him: “While hounds and horns and sweet melodious birds / Be unto us as is a nurse’s song / Of lullaby to bring her babe asleep.” Her seemingly harshness, cunning and pitiless actions might be motivated by, not in spite of, her maternal feelings. For wasn’t it a mother love that cried for the life of her son.
One English professor from Cambridge said this of Lavinia as a powerful feminine figure, “though her journey is quite different from Tamora’s Lavinia’s power is more or less passive: she is seen as Titus’ prized daughter, the exemplar of Rome. She has the power to attract Chiron and Demetrius, but does not have the strength to prevent the tragic results of this limited power.” Shakespeare tries to show that lack of full power by having her be murdered by her father at the banquet in act five. Some versions she is seen submitting humbly as a dutiful daughter other times she is shown with fear or confusion. She primarily exists, then, as a metaphor for Rome. She something good and wholesome but because of that lack of power she is disfigured never to have that same presence. Instead she has this power of almost horror, like when the young Marcus Runs away from her when she is just trying to communicate to him. Shakespeare is showing us that something that is good cannot stay that way.
Lavinia also has moments of power throughout the play; hers, however, are much more subtle than many of the other powerful characters. She had influence she was goodness and innocence and now she is ruined and must rely on the men in her life. Perhaps Shakespeare was reflecting the feelings of the men of the Elivebethian times; women needed men to survive. Lavinia never seems to be truly acting, on her own. Her actions are almost always muffled by mans. Lavinia is more of symbolic power which is a very powerful theme throughout the play. Some directors have even gone so far to call the play, “The Rape of Lavina” instead of Titus Andronicus.
The women of this play have a rare role and occasion to show things in such a time that was so male dominant. However the primary ruler of the time was a women: Queen Elizabeth. Who we know, was a friend with Shakespeare. Some Scholars have questioned if the women in Shakespeare plays ever represented her. In the case of Titus Andronicus this exploration of female power is much more cynical and pessimistic. Shakespeare is saying that any good thing, especially women, will one day turn dark. Whether this change happens by choice as with Tamora, who felt it absolutely necessary to become evil or it is as Lavinia who is broken by the evils of others and while still strives to be good never regains that innocence. Shakespeare uses these two extreme characterizations as symbols to show what will always happen to the innocent and good in this world.
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